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The Epistle of Jude: Against Gnosticism

Jesus' brother, Jude, wrote a letter to the Jewish Christian congregations in the first century, warning them about Gnosticism and also urging them to stand firm in faith against their Jewish critics.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 14

Jude’s Final Admonition

In Jude 17-19 the author addresses his readers directly to admonish and exhort them to follow the truth and to reject the Gnostic teachings.

17 But you, brethren, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Jude may have been referring to the Apostle Peter, who wrote in 2 Peter 3:1-3,

1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. 3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts.

The Mockers

Peter and Jude were the only New Testament authors to use the Greek term empaiktes, “mockers.” The word was used once also in the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 3:4, 5,

4 And I will make youths their princes, and mockers [empaiktes] shall have dominion over them. 5 And the people shall fall, man upon man, and every man upon his neighbor; the child shall insult the elder man, and the base the honourable.

Here we learn that the Greek-speaking rabbis used empaiktes as the equivalent of the Hebrew word ta’aluwl, which pictures a child about to throw a tantrum in order to get his own way (i.e., a mini-tyrant). The prophet tells us that God’s judgment upon Israel for its lawlessness is that He will put such childish tyrants in positions of authority over them. They will not be ruled by those having spiritual maturity and love but by those who demand that others serve them and give them everything that their capricious hearts desire (or “their own ungodly lusts”).

When such children throw tantrums, they are quite serious about getting their own way. They are not “mocking” anyone. But Isaiah’s use of the term t’aluwl (or empaiktes) suggests that he was mocking the mockers—using irony—by telling them that their leaders would act like little childish tyrants.

Perhaps this is the prophet that Peter was referencing when he wrote about “the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets.” Jude omits any reference to the prophets but appeals to the apostles (i.e., Peter).

Jude himself mocks the mockers in Jude 19, for the Gnostics considered themselves to be very spiritual, but Jude says that they are “devoid of the Spirit.” The lawless Gnostics did not follow “the law of God” but “the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25; 8:2). Thinking themselves to be superior to the laws of God, they had cast aside restraint and had sanctified licentiousness, following the example of the other mystery religions of the day.

The Gnostics are Soulish

When Jude calls them “worldly-minded” in Jude 19, the Greek word is psychikos, “soulish.” It is the word used by Paul in 1 Cor. 2:14 describing “a natural man,” in contrast to “he who is spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:15). When men follow the desires of the soul, they are acting according to their Adamic nature, for Adam was made a living soul (1 Cor. 15:45). Such people identify with the soulish identity (“man”) that they received from their earthly parents.

By contrast, those who have been begotten by God have transferred their identity from the soul to the spirit—which is the “new man,” or new self. These are no longer the sons of Adam but the sons of God, and hence they are led by their spirit, which in turn is saturated by the Holy Spirit.

Jude tells us that the Gnostics were psychikos, “soulish,” because they had not been begotten by the Holy Spirit. Their claim to spirituality was merely an attempt to make the soul spiritual. But the soul was already condemned to death at the time that Adam sinned, and it will never be an inheritor of the Kingdom. Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:50).

True Believers are Spiritual

Jude continues in Jude 20 and 21,

20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

Jude exhorts the true believers to continue to build up their strength and grow spiritually. That holy seed which has been begotten by God is yet an embryo that must grow and mature until it is able to be brought fully to birth as a manifested son of God, visible to the world. When Jude speaks of “your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” he uses the metaphor of the temple. The “most holy faith” is the level of faith that corresponds to the Most Holy Place in the temple, where the Holy Spirit resides between the cherubim.

Most prayer was made at the altar of incense in the Holy Place as the priest approached the veil. It was there that Zacharias was praying as he offered incense when Gabriel appeared to him (Luke 1:11) and prophesied that he would have a son and that they should name him John. But once a year the high priest went into the Most Holy Place, where he met God face to face. We are currently like Zecharias as we minister to God in the Holy Place, building up our faith to prepare for the day we see Him face to face.

Meanwhile, Jude says, the faithful are to keep themselves in the love of God. In other words, they are to rest in assurance that they remain in God’s love for them, for that love is the basis of fellowship with Him. Building one’s faith cannot be separated from increasing one’s love of God, for “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love responds to His love and causes us to draw closer to Him in the Most Holy Place, even as we await anxiously for His coming and His presence (parousia).

The goal is “eternal life” (zoein aionian). The goal is not merely the quality of life that comes with immortality but specifically to receive this immortal life at the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5, 6). Those who are given life in the first resurrection are the overcomers who will reign with Christ for “The Age,” that is, the Messianic Age.


Jude speaks of “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ,” substituting the word mercy for reward given to the true believers. Because these true believers are the recipients of such mercy, Jude 22 and 23 admonishes them, saying,

22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Mercy is a lawful option guaranteed to all victims of injustice. We call it the Law of Victims Rights, because a victim of injustice is given the right to receive justice and restitution or to grant mercy to the sinner according to his discretion. Jude admonishes believers to have mercy on “some who are in doubt” (Panin’s Numeric New Testament).

Why would Jude tell us to have mercy on those who are doubting? Were the objects of such mercy in a state of doubt? The Emphatic Diaglott reads, “discriminating” or “making a difference.” It seems to me that Jude was saying that the victims of injustice had the power to discern the situation and to discriminate in the application of justice and mercy. The “doubt,” then, was not due to a lack of faith but to the uncertainty of how to apply justice and mercy. Hence, “some” ought to receive mercy, implying that others may not be deserving of it.

This is contrasted with others who ought to be saved, “snatching them out of the fire” of justice (i.e., the “fiery law” in Deut. 33:2, KJV). In other words, some ought to be saved (delivered) from the fire of justice. Still others should be granted “mercy with fear.” The term fear has a wide range of meaning from outright terror to healthy respect.

In this case, Jude defines the term by saying, “hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” The overall message is that one should hate the sin without hating the sinner. Jude may have gotten his metaphor from Zech. 3:2, where the Lord tells Satan, “Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” God was talking about Joshua the high priest, who was dressed in filthy garments and was in need of new clothing in order to minister to God properly.

In that case, Joshua received mercy in spite of his dirty clothing (i.e., unrighteousness). So also, we ought to hate “the garment polluted by the flesh,” but not the one in need of clean, white garments, which are “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).

The Doxology

Jude concludes his letter in Jude 24, 25,

24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude does not want the believers to stumble, either from Gnostic teaching or through sin and “ungodly lusts.” When we stand in the presence of God, we need to be dressed in the fine linen which is righteousness, rather than the filthy, soulish garments of the flesh.

Jude’s doxology is similar to the expression of praise from all creation in Rev. 5:12,

12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

Jude’s final statement, “before all time and now and forever,” is better translated as “before every age and now and unto all the ages” (Dr. Bullinger). Even the NASB margin informs us that “forever” (pantas tous aionas) ought to be translated “to all the ages.”

Amen means “so be it.” The word is often used to bear witness of the truth and as a general statement expressing agreement.